Op-Ed | The Bronx is suffocating. We need $15 billion to fix it.

State reveals ‘backup’ plan/I-95 North improvements to end bottleneck
The asthma hospitalization rate for children in the Bronx is 70% higher than the rest of NYC and 700% higher than the rest of the state, largely due to adjacent roadways carrying hundreds of trucks daily.
Photo Alex Mitchell

In 2019, New York passed the most transformative climate legislation in the country, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA’s funding is currently being debated by the state Legislature. Despite having $12 billion in unallocated funds for this year’s budget, Gov. Hochul’s proposed Executive Budget includes less than $1.5 billion in new funding to address our climate crisis — far from what New Yorkers need and deserve. That’s why I’m demanding $15 billion for the climate and environmental emergency in this year’s 2022 budget, along with NY Renews, a coalition of more than 320 community-based, labor, environmental justice, faith and climate groups. It’s often stated that this is the most consequential moment of our lives. However, in modern times, we have never faced such an extraordinary opportunity to address this crisis as right now. 

What would a $15 billion climate investment mean for the Bronx?

Recently, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its most recent report, confirming what Bronx residents have known for decades: Racism, economic inequality and the legacies of colonialism are the leading factors contributing to significant health issues and poverty in my home borough.

As we well know, the asthma hospitalization rate for children in the Bronx is 70% higher than the rest of NYC and 700% higher than the rest of the state. Residents of the West Bronx are exposed to a vehicular fine particulate matter that is 270% higher than the state average, and seven of NYC’s hazardous waste sites are located in the Bronx. Leadership and corporations in the past felt that Bronxites were undeserving of sufficient air quality and decided they would subject them to the most congested and polluted traffic corridor in the U.S. With adequate funding, the CLCPA would support initiatives aimed at eliminating industrial emissions that harm our health and drive climate change.

With $15 billion in the 2022 budget for climate justice, we could also improve our borough’s public transit system. About 60% of Bronx residents commute to work using public transit and face the consequences of service cuts, overcrowding and inaccessible stations. Half of our public transit commutes average more than an hour, and those requiring intra-Bronx and outer-borough travel frequently rely on expensive and inefficient options due to decades of negligence by both the public and private sectors. By funding the CLCPA in 2022, New York could expand public transit and issue vouchers for low- and moderate-income commuters. It could also support the MTA’s capital plan for accessibility retrofits, and allow for bulk purchases of electric buses, electric paratransit and social service vehicles.

Furthermore, more than 55% of Bronx households are rent-burdened. Last year, half of all Bronx buildings earned a D grade in their water and energy efficiency. Tenants of “affordable” housing units in the Bronx are all too familiar with temperature extremes, with units being either too cold or too hot. Con Ed bills have recently made headlines for their astronomical jumps, and lower-income households are paying the biggest price. Across the U.S., lower-income families regularly spend up to four times as much on utilities as wealthier ones, often due to energy inefficiency. By funding the CLCPA, the state would be able to weatherize homes, retrofit public housing, bulk purchase rooftop solar panels and batteries, and provide up to $10,000 in grants for energy efficiency and decarbonization for more than 25,000 households.

In one of the richest cities in the world, nearly 30% of Bronx residents live in poverty. The median family income is $38,085 annually. According to the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, nearly 58% of Bronx jobs are held by people who live outside of the Bronx, with most paying more than $40,000 a year. If New York state funds the CLCPA in 2022, it could jump-start our transition to a clean energy economy by creating jobs and apprenticeships for Bronxites and New Yorkers in green projects such as expanding offshore wind, waterfront resiliency, improving grid stability and upgrading public housing energy. But, we can’t make any of these transformative projects a reality without allocating at least $15 billion toward combating our climate crisis in this upcoming budget. 

It cannot be overstated that the ever-worsening climate crisis is the singular, existential catastrophe of our time. A cruel verdict imposed upon younger generations by those vested to protect us—one that is dire for our state, but a death sentence for the children and families of the Bronx. There is nothing more vital to our lives than the land we till, the water we drink, or the air we breathe; but that’s what is at risk. Everyday, we as leaders do nothing about it is another failure for the future of our communities. We can’t afford to leave our work halfway-done. We can’t afford to pass the buck on to the next generation. We passed the CLCPA—now we must fund it so that families in the Bronx and communities throughout the state of New York can finally get the climate action they deserve. Now we must decide: do we allow the decisions of the past to lead us down the polluted road of congestion or do we finally seize the opportunity in front of us—the choice is ours.

Kenny Burgos is a member of the New York State Assembly representing the 85th District.